Startup founders Vihari Kanukolla and Gustavo Silva discovered how to grab investors’ attention and get the funding they needed to scale up faster than they’d hoped.
Vihari Kanukolla is CEO and co-founder of Urban Kisaan, a Hyderabad-based business that builds hyperlocal hydroponic vertical farms, where customers can pick their own organic vegetables or buy the kit to grow their own at home. Urban Kisaan was founded in 2017 and has raised close to $1 million, and now has 16 farms in India.
In 2019, Kanukolla signed up to London Business School’s The Entrepreneurial Edge programme, looking for a short course that he could do while the business was growing. He needed access to expertise as he took his startup to the next level. “Entrepreneurial Edge offered exactly what I wanted to cover, as I needed it,” he says. This included vital subjects like how to present to investors and finding the right way to market the business. “These are the topics any entrepreneur wants to know but I didn’t have an entrepreneurial background,” he says.
The topics he covered on the course were advanced enough for him to apply immediately in the real world. “We were given multiple tasks which we implemented straight away, which helped us to improve our metrics. It was very insightful,” he said. “It made my business feel not just like a hobby but like the real business it is,” he adds.
Kanukolla ascribes his acceptance onto the prestigious San Francisco startup accelerator Y-Combinator to the work he did on The Entrepreneurial Edge, where he was given critical advice on how to pitch his business better and improve his presentation deck.
“Y-Combinator was a full-on online application using questions that were very similar to the ones I was asked on the London Business School programme. In all the investor pitches I have done, I’ve been asked very similar questions,” he says, explaining that it was invaluable to learn the nuances of what to tell and want not to tell investors – and how to make a strong business case for winning funding.
On the same programme intake was Gustavo Silva, co-founder of the London-based digital wealth manager Rosecut, which was launched in 2019 and raised around £1 million in funding within 60 days of The Entrepreneurial Edge finishing. “By the end, we had the opportunity to pitch to a few investors and receive their feedback. This was super-helpful as a real rehearsal before we started talking with investors from our field,” says Silva.
The timing was perfect, as Silva started the course just as he was about to embark on another round of funding. “Talking about fundraising, networking with investors, doing a pitch for investors invited by London Business School on the programme was fantastic. It was really good timing because it was exactly when I was fundraising for seed capital, and it meant that I could receive feedback in a controlled environment.
“I might have lost opportunities if the presentation was not polished enough. There was a lot of teaching on how to prepare a pitch in a real meeting,” he says.
Finding the right investors for your business is critical to growing a business. Silva, originally from Brazil, had already notched up valuable entrepreneurial experience both there and in Silicon Valley, having launched a previous startup there. He was keen to found his next business in London but needed to find out more about what approach UK investors take, particularly when it comes to risk.
“I’d had a lot of experience in the US and Latin America but not much experience in Europe. The Entrepreneurial Edge was exactly what I was looking for. I had already founded a venture and had experience, and I really wanted something with more focus that I could adapt around my working routine,” he says.
“One big learning was the difference between the investors' mindset across different parts of the world, which was fundamental for us to raise our funding round from investors in four continents,” Silva adds.
After rehearsal pitches, his programme mentor introduced him to other investors within the London Business School community through whom he was able to raise funding. Making the right connections quickly helped Silva to accelerate the scale-up of Rosecut. Kanukolla was introduced to four or five interested investors while on the course, then was selected by the Y-Combinator and pursued that route instead.
“What I really loved about the programme was the real interaction with others about topics,” says Kanukolla. “It’s not just video content – there is live feedback. We talked once a week.” Silva meanwhile says that he “enjoyed the experience of learning by doing but also piggybacking the insights of experts. This trick makes a huge difference in the long run of growing a tech business. Having a mentor did the business the biggest amount of good.”
During the week, he was expected to watch videos, read papers, and do research but the two main interactive weekend sessions were of great value to Silva. On Saturdays, there was a virtual classroom with a mentor and five or six programme peers for a discussion via Zoom.
The Sunday session was more structured, with a London Business School professor reviewing what had happened the previous day during class. Both Silva and Kanukolla agree that this gave them the edge in securing funding and accelerating their businesses beyond their expectations.
The 12-week The Entrepreneurial Edge programme gives aspiring founders the tools and frameworks to build and launch new ideas, evaluate market opportunities, create a viable business model and financial plan, and powerfully articulate their vision. Participants join faculty masterclasses, gain insights from founders and have access to industry experts as well as benefiting from live mentoring sessions, peer support and the chance to pitch to an investor’s committee.